One year after Black Lives Matter protests sparked a global reckoning about the centuries-old racism Black people still face, the issue of reparations was a prominent topic at the largest gathering of world leaders this year.
The U.N. General Assembly backed African and Caribbean countries that could benefit from reparations, but those responsible for slavery or colonialism spoke little about their responsibilities to African descendants.
Representatives of countries unlikely to be tapped to repay — Cuba and Malaysia included — joined leaders from Africa (South Africa, Cameroon and Cameroon), the Caribbean (Saint Kitts & Nevis, and Saint Lucia) in explicitly supporting the creation of reparation networks.
The following countries were not included in the renewed global discussion on the topic: Germany, Britain, and the United States. These wealthy and developed nations have been able to build their wealth through conquests of various kinds.
Philip J. Pierre is the prime minister of Saint Lucia. He stated that “Caribbean nations like ours, who were exploited to finance Europe’s development, have made a case for reparations in slavery and native genocide.” In recognizing, acknowledging, and compensating victims for crimes against humanity, there should not be any double standards in international systems.
An examination of who has been talking about the issue over the past week shows that, while there is growing support for literal payback to Africa and the forced diaspora which ravaged it, substantive engagement by major powers is still limited.
For example, U.S. President Joe Biden did not mention it in his address. However, the White House stated earlier this year that it supports studying reparations to Black Americans. The U.N. office. Ambassador Linda Thomas Greenfield is an African American who didn’t comment on recent reparations talks.
The world is trying to find a way to reconcile with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s statement that America’s slavery history was a pivotal issue.
Ramaphosa stated that “Its legacy continues in the Americas and the Caribbean, Europe the Middle East, the Middle East, Africa, and itself” during a meeting about reparations at the General Assembly. “Millions of descendants of Africans sold into slavery are still trapped in poverty, underdevelopment, disadvantage, discrimination, and poverty.
More than 400 years ago, slavery in the United States was started by slaves who were transported from Africa via ship. Since 1865, slavery was abolished and reparations have been a topic of debate.
The issue has remained untouched in Congress for over three decades. However, reparations have been gaining momentum in a few cities and local governments as the country struggles with the fallout from George Floyd’s death in 2020.
Carla Ferstman is an international law expert and professor at the University of Essex who studies reparations. She said that the U.N. talks in this session are a major milestone in the global reparations movement, which has been growing for over 20 years.
It remains to be seen how the process unfolds between nations and how transformative it is. Although each reparations program would be specific to the victims’ families, the discussion about rectifying historical wrongs has become universal.
Ferstman stated, “It is universal because inequity’s universal.”
Valuable reparations could be in the form direct financial payments to individuals, development aid for countries and the return of colonized lands.
Ferstman stated that people perceive their harms differently. This includes how wrongs were perceived and how they are manifested in the lives of future generations. “One must be sensitive to what is most important and how best to rectify it.”
As the U.N. remembers the 2001 South African anti-racism conference that produced the Durban Declaration, the U.N.’s latest discussion on reparations took place.
At the commemoration meeting on Wednesday, a new resolution was adopted. It acknowledged that there had been some progress, but it also condemned the rise in violence, discrimination and intolerance against people of African heritage, as well as other groups, including Roma, refugees, young people, disabled people, and people displaced by displacement.
Even though reparations were the topic of discussion, it was not lost on those present that the new declaration last week did not demand that nations pay reparations to their governments.
It stated only that descendants should have a means to seek “just, adequate reparation or satisfaction” for any damage they suffered. This was in spite of the explicit recommendation by U.N. Human Rights Council in June.
“While reparations cannot compensate for or right all of the wrongs done to the people of African descent,” Syed Mohamad Hasrin Aidid (head of Malaysia’s U.N. Mission) said Wednesday at the meeting.
Britain, Germany, and the United States were among the many countries that did not attend the Durban commemoration because of ongoing grievances over the conference from 20 years ago when the U.S. boycotted the event due to references to the Israel-Palestinian war. The U.N. representatives for Britain and Germany did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Germany’s president did not mention reparations in his General Assembly address. However, he is one of few countries to have requested money to compensate for colonial-era mistakes.
Germany recognized the killing of tens and thousands of Namibians in Namibia as genocide early this year. It agreed to pay 1.1 billion euros ($1.3billion) for projects that will last 30 years and help those affected. This announcement did not claim that Germany was making formal reparations.